Wednesday, November 26, 2008

City Report: Prague

two weeks later, what is most remarkable, is that nothing stands out about prague. The architecture was amazing, admittedly, but it was drowned on the ground by billions of tourist, all of whom seemed to have brought their skanky russian mistress. the city is steeped in fascinating history, and each building tells a story, but in the end i found the city far too overwhelming given my short stay of less than 36 hours. plus, i was recovering from an aforementioned bavarian drinking escapade. goddamn turks!  

in old cities such as prague I am always turned off by the volume of tourism that comes through .I understand that the tourism helps sustain the quality of the buildings, but really, these structures were fine before the floodgates were opened and would live a natural life without the loads of incoming euros. so, in retrospect, i offer this to those who have 'developed' this city since its soviet release: a more subtle approach would have been appreciated. for example, in Wenceslas Square, i was hoping to somehow appreciate how a few thousand czech dissidents  gathered here 40 years ago and announced a prague spring. demands of the audience would include a soviet thaw -- a step away from the hardcore values of control and iron fists. a bohemian left emerged and stood tall against soviet tanks which rolled through and killed an unknown amount of dissidents. so you stand there at this square looking slightly uphill to the National Museum,  and you think to yourself: if you had to do it over again, would you stop at four McDonalds on this two mile strip? or would you super size and go for six? If you had your choice, and were rebuilding a country, and wanted to emphasize how distant you are from a soviet top-down economy, would you build threee casinos and four sex shops? or vice versa? 

i live in a neighbhorhood overrun by tourists. in the summer, they walk up and down my street, sometimes blocking my driveway with double decker busses. half a mile downstream you could not turn without seeing several strip clubs and sex shops. this sort of development does not bother me in general . I just wish they would have left prague alone -- for all i had heard about it, and for all its history, and its ancient jewish community, and its modern soviet stand, and its peaceful re-incarnation as a new republic -- it would have been to let this one lay low. 

But we all understand how this works. Prague is beautiful and old, tremendously romantic and built across rivers and centuries. The commodification of history , architecture and love could not be stopped by soviet tanks, much less you or me. It is simply a reality -- at once beautiful and gross, not unlike that skanky russian mistress. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Country Update: Germany

Welcome to Germany! This is my third trip here and I must say, change gonna come. Where as before I had long seen these people as genocidal maniacs, something has changed with this visit. Perhaps it is the cleanliness of the taxis, or the audobahn, on which my business colleague topped out at 194 Km/hr while using a sonar powered navigation and steering system. I dont know what happened, but during my whole trip here, I never once felt like pissing on the floor or hate fucking some teutonic piece of ass for reparations. So, my prior trips to germany were a bit more exciting, but strangely, I am feeling very happy and comfortable to be here!  

My business requirements have me training our Germany partner for 2 days before I have to head to Prague and Finland next week. Work is proceeding swimmingly, but what has really captivated me is, of course, the reaction to our recent elections. First, let's be straight up about this -- Europe is FAR more racially non-subtle than Americans. In fact, every channel I watched showed brothers dancing up and down when obama won and then offset this with dejected McCain supporters all looking like strom thurmon's ballsack on a stick.  

I am not saying that these people are racist, but I was just suprised -- and then it occurred to me: somewhere along during the campaign I had forgotten that Barack Obama was black! Perhaps this was some jedi mind shit aspect of an amazing campaign, but seriously -- I realize he is our first black president and i realize that this is historic, but this notion was entirely overshadowed by a politics of inclusion and positivity. 

And for the first time in a LONG time, I was feeling great to be an American abroad. Folks seemed generally happy for me, and of course I had perma-grin on my face. It is incredible how much people in other countries despise (or maybe more aptly -- are confused by) Bush and the policies of the neocons. And what's even more impressive is that they know everything about the slightest details of our political spectrum. You can imagine my embarassment when I asked -- "Hey uh, so dont you have some lady running this place?" But then it became obvious -- the farther you get from watching a story closely, the broader the strokes. So the Germans see Obama as black above all, and I see some bloated lady with a bad haircut running all of Deutchland.
But let's face it, you dont need a sociological lesson. Shit, if thats what you wanted, you wouldn't have dropped out of high school to get your GED. I get it. You want to hear me tell you stories of me stumbling through munich after eating a 3 pound pig leg. Fine then. Heres a pic of the leg: 

And a couple accomplices: 

Must rewind! We left the hotel at 9pm. The dude driving the car was a wiry cat with a strange cackle and powerful unibrow (uni-brau?). His passenger/coworker was a Turk. Together we hammered into central munich, found impecable parking and began the evening. 

The details are sketchy. I recall several items: First -- Munich is beautiful, friendly, and goddamn fun. Here is a picture of city hall at night: 

Down below city hall, we squared up to the massive german portions as shown above. The rest of the evening involved lots of laughs and revelry. I hugged a German couple. Thirty people in a crowded bar started chanting 'Yes we can!'. I believe I drunk dialed my mom (not like THAT!). Finally, I retired in my hotel room at 3am, exhausted and anxious in anticipation of that 6am wake up call which would ready me for my travels to prague. 

The next morning was a battle of will. In the end, I successfully boarded my flight to Bonn which would eventually take me to Prague, but I will spare you the details of my struggles. Let's just say 5 liters of lager coupled with 3 white russians do funny things to my system. I should have taken a cue from our recent presidential contest and held off on the cream. That lactose will get you every time. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Old News

Usually when I board an airplane, I have a vague anxiety that the world will be an utterly different place when i return. It's an anxiety borne of experience -- one time I got on a plane and while I was gone half of lower manhatten was exploded -- and it's one I feel every time i take off, passport in hand. More than the concern of being trapped far from home (as I was in 2001 - in Amsterdam of all places!) what grips me most is my fear that i would miss out on something momentous, and will be unable to share it with friends. When they told us to extinguish our electronic devices, I got a call from the Sky crew that everything looked good. Just then it was time to take off and --  like that! -- I was out of contact with the rest of you, Matt Gerloff's tipsy euphoria ringing sweetly in my ears... 

Somewhere over Utah, I stood up to use the bathroom. This is a habit I enjoy even more now after you-know-which shitty state funded the passing of California Prop 8. Anyway, upon my return the captain came aboard the radio and told us all -- CNN projected Barack Obama had won the presidency. A mild euphoria arose across the aisles, and I do believe I high-fived a business traveller or two. And when I sat down and turned to radio channel 9 -- there, somewhere high over the wasatch range -- i listened to Obama's address from Grant Park, Chicago. Grant Park, where my mom took me to see your 1991 world champion Chicago Bull's victory  parade. It all came together so quickly ... a beautiful trinity high over the Red plains below -- mother, city, country. And when it was all over, I poured myself a victory gin and tonic, and I raised it high to no one and everyone in particular. I took a sip and looked out the window. I could not help but notice how happy i looked in reflection, and how even in the most separate/removed/airborne conditions, I could feel so completely home. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Discussions of Information Theory, Penguins and Recounts

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley I had a number of professors, none of whom I could understand. Whether they would talk about information theory, digital communications or natural language processing, all of these guys would butcher the english language violently. And still, a common message resonated: apparently, whether you are from India, Kazakhstan, or Russia, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

The free lunch metaphor was used (and sometimes, to my horror, acronym-ized to TNSTAAFL) to describe the inevitable trade off that is so central to engineering. Want more performance out of something? You'll have to pay for it energy costs. Want a faster internet? Better learn some ridiculous math and pack shit into some orthogonal signal spaces. etc. The irony of all of this was that as graduate students all we DID was look for free lunches -- I'm pretty sure I attended a rally for the preservation of ante-Colombian art in central Belize for a slice of pizza. Free chips and salsa with a 12 oz beer ? There's dinner for ya.

And as I grow older I realize that the free lunch metaphor is more and more true. Sure some people are born rich, good looking and hung like a Nubian Clydesdale. The majority of us, however, live a life of quid pro quo -- a constant tit for tat that requires us to make sacrifices in order to make amazing things happen. And so, with the discussion of horses behind us, I present to you the following map, which describes a trip I am about to embark upon. A trip that happens to require a departure on election night:

Finland! Just the thought of the country evokes the image of friendly penguins dancing at the airport, beckoning me to join them in their country's insatiable pursuit of pickled fish. Finland, where ice castles filled with vodka are at every corner! Giant beautiful women chopping wood -- and free saunas for everyone! And let's not forget Munich and Prague, both jewels of central europe, both cities made entirely of beer!

Originally this trip had me going to Israel too, which would have involved 3 weeks on the road. As much as I love the homeland, a trip of that length would have left me with a unkempt beard, undergarments that aromated strongly of fennel, and a sense of fear and loathing that always precedes the bad things. So the current itinerary is more that sufficient, and I am more than excited to see all of these places I've never been to. And though Helsinki will undoubtedly be shrouded in seasonal darkness, just you wait till I'm writing at 1am, a bottle of vodka and 3 giant pickled fishes deep.

But, as we know all know, there's no such thing as a free lunch. In order to make my Thursday meeting in Munich, I will have to travel on Election Night -- my favorite night ever. Instead of rooting all night with you for team blue, I will be left with a years worth of political blue balls. With any luck our pilot will share the results over the PA, though i doubt my supervisor race will be covered in this fashion.

So, in my absence, I have some voting day tips for you. Instead of a voting primer, which is boring and essentially useless at this point, I'd like to suggest a few guidelines for "Partying with DonnyB in mind." I will present several scenarios and provide appropriate partying steps by which you must abide to the letter, since I will not be able to share this (hopefully) glorious evening with you.

Scenario 1: Obama Victory
  1. Fist pump and yell "Abracadabra Motherfucker!!!" (or something similarly momentous)
  2. Do a shot
  3. If an early win (PA/OH called before my 7pm PST flight) give me a call to share the joy (I will be making out with whoever is standing next to me at SFO)
  4. Keep an eye on our friend Al Franken
  5. Repeat step (2)
  6. Party till your ass falls off
  7. Call in sick
  8. Repeat (2) until you pass out
Scenario 2: McCain Victory
  1. Do a shot
  2. Throw your TV out the window
  3. When looting, please keep the 1991 LA riots in mind and pick me up the following items:
  • Sony D-25 Discman
  • Boyz II Men Tape (CooleyHighHarmony specifically, but I'll take the appropos "End of the Road" single)
  • A canadian passport
  • Any illicit substances you could get your hands on.
4. After exhausting yourself, consider joining me in Europe! I will be at the Radisson SAS Royal in Helsinki

Scenario 3: Recounts
  1. Do a shot
  2. Determine the state(s) in question
  3. Book airfare to this state, and email me your itinerary
  4. Avoid violence (you'll need all your strength when handling the riot police in Canton)
  5. Avoid amphetimines, Republicans and the elderly.
So there you have it. I wish I could be there with you guys, but higher duty calls me to distant lands. Remember to follow these steps in detail, and if Scenario 1 comes true, give me a call on November 16th. I will renounce my higher education once and for all, and buy you a beer.

Friday, September 19, 2008

We are Back

it has been 12 years, 34 fortnights and 140 light-years since i have written last. I know the light-year is a unit of distance -- take it easy.

since i have started writing and sharing stories with my friends, i have focused primarily on my travels, where i am bombarded with new information that requires parsing and digestion. this newness, coupled with my solitude, moves me to share and to write to all of you. like i'm writing letters to you. imagining us in a warm bar on a wintry day, drink in hand, describing how people smoke cigarettes while taking a shit in israel, or how the brazilians are weary of penny-pinching transvestite homosexuals.

all of these stories are written out of need, and yes from a sense of responsibility. i must share this with my friends, they need to know! they are written from a compulsive place, fueled by the urgency and potency of the thought, the obsessive worry that if i do not capture this moment right now, in this space, it will be lost forever.

in my "real life" this urgency is lost. the moments melt into each other and while they still require parsing, and fuck yes, they require sharing, i seem to defer this process to actual face time with you , drink in hand, looking into your eyes and laughing it up. but something is lost in translation, and something is certainly lost in time. the word persists the memory, and while i have no illusions or delusions of immortality, i love my stories and want to see them again and again.

so yes, friends, we are back. we are using the royal 'we' now, because we feel strong and powerful, and because we have been reading the most recent salman rushdie book , which involves akhbar the great, onto whom rushdie casts a number of existential problems involving personal pronouns. i was reading this book today on the 30 stockton, on my way into work. the 30 stockton, for those of you who dont know, runs (surprise) down stockton st, through the heart of chinatown. when i sit down on this bus every morning, i am usually lucky enough to get a seat. by the time we get to chinatown, it's like we are all of a sudden in china. not in a metaphorical way, an underage olympian kind of way, or a mu shu pork kind of way (this wold be interesting) - in a literal, 30,000 chinese folks in this bus kind of way. today , im reading this book and i cough. a chinese woman to my right says something to her friend and starts waving her hand to shoo my cough away. so here i am, sitting on this bus, one of 30,000 people crushed in, feeling slighted, mainly because we have to look up from our rushdie, and now we're eye level with a 45 year old chinese dude's balls. bad idea. at stockton and jackson, i had no need to cough -- in fact, my earlier cough was more philip morris than TB -- but the personal sleight was too much so i coughed louder. the response from my right was as expected -- crazy starts waving fanatically in my direction, looking away and yelling at her friend. i just didnt get it -- what did she expect on the 30. why not wear one of those goddamn moon suits and be done with it? no wait, a mouth mask, a gas mask and a moon suit. that should do her. at stockton and clay i started losing my shit -- coughing like i just swallowed the whole plague, reaching down deep for some phlegm, scaring folks who weren't so interested earlier. coughing loudly, grabbing the seat for leverage, covering my mouth -- sort of -- but letting my target of misaffection know that she best watch the fuck out for me, because i'm strong and powerful, and my lungs will move you. someone gets the message , chatters something impossible to her friend, jumps up and melts into the 30,000 strong.

friends, we are back.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


hello friends! well my time for flagrant international travel is coming to an end. it's not that the past trips to israel, brazil, puerto rico, and columbus, Ohio were frivolous. they were just a strange and seemingly non-essential component of my soon-to-be old job. you heard right, I have taken a job with a small startup in san francisco! so, while my international travel will undoubtedly be curtailed, i may be surrounded by mohawked grown men in kilts, roller skating amongst cubicles. we can only hope.

i am not one to go down quietly! purely by accident but incredibly well timed, my penultimate work week was spent in montreal , quebec, where OSI has an office. this trip was planned well ahead of time by my co-worker laurent so we that we could meet important customers. my timing was fortuitous -- i was able to resign from a different country, which is an exotic thing to tell your friends, and I dont have to spend this week having awkward conversations with co-workers. a double win. plus, i got to see montreal.

i've had my eyes on montreal for a long time. when i was 5 years old my family went on a roadtrip there and i remember small things about the city -- hockey jerseys, military time, an unintelligible populace. since, i have heard all the stories of bars and strip clubs, museums and restaurants. so i was stoked to visit the city. only one problem -- the worst winter in montreal since 1971. oof! 5000 cms of snow per hour or something (i dont go metric). treacherous! take a look at these streets :

the whole weekend was blown out so i didnt get a chance to walk around carefree, dropping in cafes, and watching extremely well dressed girls go by. nope, everyone is bundled up and looking like the michelin man. terrible, but i still got a feel for the town and was able to go out with friends a couple nights. at first , what struck me was how european everything felt, and after a couple drinks , i texted my friends in the states that europe may indeed be superfluous given our fair neighbors to the north. i told my quebecois friends this and they laughed at me. 'these people are americans that speak french, there is nothing european about them.' 'i was in paris last week, my friend -- this is absolutely not europe.' and it got me thinking, is this actually europe, somehow mistakenly placed in north american by some strange geographical mix up? or were these folks truly north americans speaking french -- just like me and you, but with a funny accent.

there are several ways to figure this out. unfortunately, I didnt ask any of my friends if they love jerry lewis. instead, ive considered my previous travels , and compiled a list of distinct categories that separate north american and european culture. i will walk through this list, assigning a score between 0 and 10 (0 being american as apple pie, 10 being a place where they watch sprockets with dieter). at the end we'll do a little calculation and see just how new world these folks in montreal really are.

A. Amount of CNN international on TV

When traveling in Europe, it's almost impossible to escape the grasp of CNN, usually in its international form. Africa, China and even Australia are all heavily covered, making Europeans feel more worldly and less a part of the american cultural hegemony. just like plain CNN , the content is utter dogshit, but being able to hear the language usually draws me so close, i feel like im dating wolf blitzer. in quebec, not only do they have CNN regular, they also get ABC and NBC from upstate New York. Luckily for canadians , they still have the CBC which allows them to get legitimate worldwide news, without the CNN ridiculousness. Score : 1

B. Children speaking incomprehensible languages (and an aforementioned jealousy of mine)

Oh ho ho! My friend Laurent had the cutest kids and even at the tender age of 3 years old his little boy was speaking French. incredible -- and so cute! he tried talking to me but it wasnt going anywhere so we just made lots of noises at each other and high fived. this is pretty much the extent of my ability to communicate with these kids and it drives me crazy. i want to speak french! mainly just to be able to talk dirty but whatever, why not me? sure i got some russian under my belt but believe me, russian is not sexy, unless your name is olga and you carry bales of hay. Score : 8

C. Arrogance/Rudeness

Nothing says Europe like arrogant people who want nothing to do with my New World ass. actually, they dont care how old my worldy ass is, folks in europe have the repuatation for being rude, especially in france. When i was in high school we asked my history teacher, mr. garvey, why the french hated us. "how could you like someone that had to save your ass TWICE. " Mr Garvey was a brilliant man. I felt a bit weird in Montreal speaking english , but everyone was super friendly. I think part of this is climate -- when your nipples are falling off from the cold and you are balls deep in snow, you have to learn to take care of one another. i think this is also a reason canada is entirely crime free (look it up!). even my friend Laurent, who is french, cant stand french people, but finds the Quebecois warm and friendly. Score: 1

D. Worthless currency

Did you know that in post-war hungary, inflation rates were so high that in the time hungarians took to go from the bank to the store to buy bread, their bills had deflated in value by 10 times?? ok, so its not that bad out there for us, but it's still a sad day in the currency markets, my friends. that is, unless you're holding a shit-ton of Canuck Bucks. my god! last time I was in Canada, the exchange rate was 50% better. WOW! I love GWBush!!!! Canada seems like an economic power house compared to us right now, and thats no laughing matter. this is though: the capital city of saskatchewan is regina and it totally rhymes with vagina. Score: 4

E. smoking

I think Canada started the death warning cigarette pack, but they have taken it to a whole new level:

This is a tricky category because while cigarette labels are scary, which is positively un american, you cant smoke anywhere, which i guess is just becoming the rule everywhere (france included). This category is a wash.
Score : 5

F. cops on the street/socialism

People in the US are obsessed with fighting crime by putting more armed cops on the streets while canada fights it with crytpo-socialism . guess what? socialism wins! this isnt just me being a commie -- i saw 1 cop car during my 5 day stay in montreal and somehow, nothing happened to me. canadians spend all their money on taxes, which go to education and health/child care which allows people to live better, despite the fact that their dont take home as much as us. while surely this flies in the face of the free market capitalism on which the american economy and culture so heavily lean, you cant deny that its creates a government and social system of compassion. plus, with global warming, this place is gonna be balmy by the time i retire! so guess where i'm going? regina. Score: 8

G. facial moles/bad teeth

Everyewhere you go in europe, people's grills are all jacked up. either their teeth go in forteen directions or they have a horrendous mole, which in my head moves around when i'm not looking. I mentioned this when i was in Spain -- that either new world foreign policy or our diets, or something, has , blessedly, eradicated the mole from our gene pool. same as teeth -- people in the US have straighter chomphers and if they dont, they goddamn fix em. quebec was no exception. beautiful girls, no moles to fuck it all up. teeth straight and shiny. nice job montreal!! Score: 1

H. Breakfast meats

Heres the real decider -- breakfast in europe is a real to do. Hard boiled eggs, salads, cured meats, smoked meats, meaty meats. meat everywhere, let me tell you. In germany they would just wrap up the appetizer tray from the night before's dinner and re-serve that for breakfast the next day. smoked fishes, vegetables. it was proposterous - and delicious! the quebecois perfer a far simpler fare of crappy scrambled eggs, sausage/bacon , home fry potatoes and fruit. if you're lucky you can find a croissant and the special montreal bagel. but all in all, pretty standard fare. Score: 2

I. anti american sentiment

Perhaps its our dying currency, or because we're their #1 trade partner, but I felt very little anti-american sentiment from our canadian friends. sure they hate bush, but so do we and its almost like their feel sorry for us to have to put up with that craziness. and now that our dollar is equal to theirs, our ecomonic heroism is not something to really lionize. its just a bit sad really. its like canada was our little brother, and as big brothers we would do all kinds of cool shit , like drive big cars, make out with cheerleaders and invade panama. then, one day it turns out that big bro has a raging drug problem and starts going apeshit, causing his superhero status and economic wherewithall to decline to a fucking joke. except this joke isnt funny -- say hello to $12/gal gas! Score: 1

So after careful calculation, my scientific calculation gives Montreal an American rating of 3.9. Big points for communism and anti-smoking legislation, but at the end of the day, these folks were just too friendly to properly be considered French. Think of it : a nearby city with friendly people, good teeth and a tremendously powerful currency. Sounds like heaven to me ! Now, if they could only do something about that ridiculous snow situation.... gotta have goals!

Monday, February 18, 2008

the new hood.

i had a couple hours to kill, so i walked into into 1155 grant st, where i would kick back, have a couple drinks and be endlessly entertained by dive bar karoake. i look up to the projected screen tv -- sprawling landscapes are running and on top of them, the lyrics to My Way. I sit down, look up and see two loaded mexican girls telling me how they had a few regrets, but too few to mention, really. Meanwhile, the song ends and my bartender, candy , looks at me. "honey where you been you no come in here no more." and as if to make up for my time gone she pours me a 7&7 with a shot of 7 sidecar. the mexican girls have moved on to labamba and the cantonese barman/baritone starts belting with them. i don't know this guy's name yet, but i have a pretty good sense that he's gonna be a major form of entertainment for me over the next 12-18 months. this scene carries on and on. candy is pouring me drinks and lighting my cigarette. to my left four cantonese fellas are sitting around styrofoamed left overs , a bottle of glenlivet, and some dice. they and candy and the barman, lets call him wayne for now, are really pounding dice, yatzee style, and the BANG BANG BANG of the rolls are punctuating their shouts, their singing, their shots. im watching all of this as wayne steps up and sings some cantonese karoake song. the whole idea of being able to read the cantonese characters so quickly is fucking killing me , as well as the scrolling picturesque background. he's singing hong kong's top 40 to video of horses in the upper peninsula of michigan. i cant contain myself and look to the man sitting next to me and tell him this is my favorite fucking song. which seemed funny at the time. next thing i know, this guy, 40 something, of slight height but not lacking in inebriation, is standing 2 feet from me, his arm around me, working through some complicated karaoke situation with me. 'you sing la la la.' and i sang 'la la la' but you know I'm atonal and that shit didnt work right, so he tried a few more times and then decided to tell me about his life story instead. 'why are you here in america' . his grammar was fine but his accent was almost impossible to decipher, especially in the noisiness of chinatown. there is no quiet in chinatown and thats why people come here -- people are so numbed by their enclosed subrurban spaces, they need to feel the human contact . come in, see the chatter of the markets, overstimulate yourself, engorge yourself on dumplings, and get your ass back to pleasanton asap. anyway, i'm hearing this story while a czech couple next to me is watching this whole thing go down. their smirks tell me 'you are in the trap now funnyman. let's see you get out of this. Dominick Hasek forever!' this man's expression changes slightly and tells me that his parents made him come here from china but he cant go back now -- there is nothing in hong kong for him now. i attempt to empathize with my new friend about the difficulties of being an immigrant, the insistent sense of geography, the challenges of it all. understandably, the responses were unintelligible grunts and i only felt better about this when candy couldnt even understand his native cantonese. i can't tell if he's about to laugh or cry and the whole thing is making me plan for an exit. i like talking to strangers but when they start getting up in my grill and being super emotional i need to get the F out of dodge. so i pulled the broken phone out of the broken pocket, put it to my ear, and said to no one in particular: 'cool, i'll be right there.'


welcome to my new neighborhood! thanks to my newfound and exciting hyperawareness to the perils of bedbugs, I havent moved directly into chinatown. instead , i have traded dirty mission streets, packed with hatted hipsters for the vibrant north beach streets, teeming with tourists, europeans, and east bay revelers. some might think this swap is a push at best, but they would be sadly mistaken. i have lived within one block of valencia street for over four years and let's just say i've had enough! enough dirty streets, littered with crushed tallboys, used rubbers and drug paraphernalia.

enough hipsters! i'll say it twice cause its nice: enough hipsters! maybe i'm not artsy enough to understand, or maybe i've grown too old (seems unlikely -- hipster powers seem to peak at 32), but i can no longer tolerate this subculture of bicycles, fidel castro hats, dudes in tight jeans, and unemployment. i've never had a visceral response to a demographic before (this is a lie) but something about my immersion amongst these people has triggered an intolerance that i can feel in my bones. it's not cold enough for a scarf dipshit. and seriously -- bright pink pants and camo gloves?

it's not just the hipster, though they do exhaust me so. i had always had my eyes set on north beach. there is something quintessentially san franciscan about this part of town and i felt like i wanted to live in that for a while. the mission isnt that unique in the world -- there are divey, multicultural neighborhoods everywhere, and while it gives the neighborhood character, its no different than the character of my old neighborhood in chicago, ukranian village, or the east village in new york. if im living in sf i want something that feels sf and only SF and north beach has to be that place.

it's not cheap here, and i gave up a big ass space for a smaller apartment that costs about oh, twice as much. but i have discovered a new need in my life: a well lit living space. holy shit the new place is bathed in light and you never need lights during the day. the old place was long and narrow, on the first floor of a victorian, completely surrounding by houses left and right - basically a cave. towards the end of my stay at 75 liberty st, i had been spending a ton of time in my room which is all the way at the back of my house, down a 35 foot hallways. every day, i would wake up in the dark, dress in the dark, and extricate myself from that dark back room. at night i would come home and re-insert myself deeply into the house. in my head that hallway had become increasingly vaginal , and there i was birthing and unbirthing myself everyday. lets just stay that one when your hallway becomes associated with the birth canal, it may be time for a change. so i looked northward for some thing accessible, well lit and markedly unvaginal . i lucked out! plus my ride, Black Thunder, has a garage where he can kick it with his new homies.

back to geography. yes! i have swapped hipster for eurotrash. all around me are tourists, europeans flocking to cafes, and the trickle of chinese from the south. my roommate, my old friend gaz, is perhaps the most english person i have ever met, right down to the full ricky gervais catalog on DVD. just yesterday he forced me to try the national sauce of english, MP, which apparently was made just for the members of parliament. and, in a proud english manner, the sauce was strange tasting and tangy. not to worry though -- the local fare is incredible -- i fully expect to have a prosciutto sweater in my colon by august!

from my roof i can see alcatraz, a couple bridges, downtown, coit tower and that twisty shit coming down lombard (pictures soon!) . i walk onto my street and have to avoid the cable car. yesterday i saw an amphibious vehicle , full of midwesterners, chug up columbus street, PA system barking out sights full blast. i dont think these things are inherently bad, or people wouldnt live in manhatten. it's just an adjustment, and a fun opportunity to meet people from all over the world, especially indiana. more than that, there is something comforting about living in a place where people on the streets are definitely not from here. it is well known lore that not one tree in san francisco is indigenous to this place. instead, the settlers out here painfully irrigated and cultivated the endless sand dunes so that new trees could set roots. this has always been a strong metaphor for me regarding my own attempts to root here. it aint easy! but posting up in a part of town full of tourists, i feel the that us and them tension and it isnt bad -- it overemphasizes my residency here. they are here to visit MY city, and everytime i pull out my keys to unlock my front door amongst folks with digital cameras and goofy hats, i feel a jolt of proprietary and pride about my city. the empowerment of the key -- my apartment has allowed me to reattach to this town in a way i didnt fully expect.

so, i dont know cantonese and i dont know why my parents brought me to america. maybe somethings are best left unresolved. but i'm feeling fine in north beach, friends. and if any of you would like to crack a beer on my roof, drop on by, and i'll show you how we do in frisco.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Israel Redux.

i have been home a week now and this time has let me soak in my trip a bit. its not often that you travel to central america and then to the middle east and back home. a whirlwind of scent and sound. my return has been made somewhat strange since they speak english here and apparently so do i. after being abroad for so long you forget that there is a place in your world where they still speak the language in which you think. not that the costa rican toursist industry or israelis in general dont have a command of english. it's just that when i go to other countries i try my best to blend in and deal in the native tongue. this was especially problematic in israel, where my hebrew knowledge is limited to my 5th grade hebrew school days and a two year relationship to a loud israeli girl.

i did have to bust out a significant amount of russian though. after my business in Israel was done i was bombarded with relatives, some of which i've seen, some of which i recognized from pictures, and some which i couldnt tell from my own ass. that expression doesnt make sense, but either does this: during my short stay in israel, i met no less than seventeen relatives, none of which could properly pronounce my name. bullshit you say. oh no! in less than 48 hours i hugged, kissed, and smoked with the following people: shlayme, masha, zlata, liron, maidan, benya, yakira, lyusa, misha, rita, dodik, masha, sopha, edit, orit, her 2 year old little sister, and azreal. these folks arent that distant either, most of them second or first cousins. so, for the older folks i really had to get my russian in order. though i made several mistakes (including mixing up the verbs "to write" and "to piss") i managed to get my point across without terrible difficulties, but the effort in speaking a different language for several hours at a time was both exhausting and frustrating.

luckily, i found that israelis are really not that different from us, except that they smoke cigarettes. a lot of cigarettes. at first i was intimidated but then i said fuck it and just went full on. smoking in people's houses, around babies, on the can. nobody gives a shit. they just passed a law over there that you're not allowed to smoke in bars any more and people just shake their head and say 'thees eeez boolsheeet law!". i mean for god's sake, do you remember that arcade games where you drop a grippy hook thing into a pool of furry things, hoping to take hope a cuddly little friend? umm yeah:

(that's not candy!)

but their lives are harder than ours and worrying about their health doesnt really figure in. of course the irony of all of this is that they have the 8th highest life expectance in the world (the US is 38th). this includes wars and bus bombings and suicide killers and all the shit americans are so scared of. and of course CIGARETTES ... OMG CIGARETTES. they think that we are crazy for worrying so much about everything and considering their proximity to enemy lines, you can see how we look ridiculous for worrying about transfats.

such proximity to your mortal enemies promotes a currency of violence which is ubiquitous -- even more than money. got a big house overlooking the ocean ? awesome. hijacked a syrian tank with nothing more than the uzi in your trunk and your work clothes? 1000 times awesomer. guns are everywhere in israel -- and the government wants it that way. specifically, they think that having 10-15% of your population armed at all times will create a mobile and instantaneous fighting force, if such a thing is required. everyone has a gun and active soldiers (you are active in the army till your 50s potentially) usually have an uzi in their trunk. again, the effects of this are almost counter-intuitive. for example, armed robbery on the streets is almost non-existant. imagine someone crazy enough to try to rob someone when there is a 10% chance that they have a gun and 90% chance that they know how to engage in some sort of hand to hand combat. i went to the train station to pull some money out of the atm and after several security checks (you cant get into a mall, train station or any hotel without getting your shit searched) i watched two 25 year old dudes walk on the train with automatic weapons strapped around their shoulder. none of this bothered me at the time, which i thought was odd. when i returned home and tried to superimpose this scenario on my current world, i realized the incongruence of it all. can you imagine walking to the 16th & Mission BART station and seeing everyone packing heat? fucking scary! not in israel, where scary takes on a different role. and gratefulness -- gratefulness means waking up alive. all of this is intense, and only heightened by israeli's desperate fanaticism for coffee and everything caffeinated. so you can imagine the scene. cigarette in one hand, coffee in the other, handgun holstered your side pocket. these people are INTENSE and thats the way they like it. plus all the girls look like a sexier version of amy winehouse (sans track marks).

the strangest thing is that these oddities make israelis the best americans ever. they embrace a gun culture in a way the framers of our consitution could only dream of, and while their freedom of press isnt necessarily up to par, their democracy is alive and kicking, unless you happen to live in the west bank or gaza , in which case all bets are off (as are the safeties on the guns). israelis love americans because without the states, israel would be naked. "danny," they would tell me, "we want to be the 52nd state!" of course this kills me on many levels, but the fact remains -- they are tied to us and their dependency is not shrouded in any shame or naivite. along these same lines, these people love gw bush. I mean, they LOVE him, because in their eyes, he hates arabs more than they do. call this a pr fumble for georgie if you like, but there is no denying that getting attacked by jihadists and starting an ancillary war in iraq with little reason certainly makes their case for them. "daniel, clinton was our friend. he came when rabin died and cried for us. but bush, bush is our gun. and his hand is on our shoulder all the time."

they are dialed into everything american. when i came home tired, i turned on the tv and flipped between 'goodfellas' and 'the untouchables', another nod to the hyperreality of guns and glamour. at the bar, i stumbled into a chicago bears football game (it doesnt matter which continent i'm on, the bears are still shitty) and had a two hour discussion with the bartender about the 85 lakers, 30 minutes of which were spent trying to remember AC Green's number. israelis love hoop! and politcally they are all way dialed into our process. everyone in Israel was curious about our upcoming 2008 elections and who i thought was going to win. i dont really have a clue and i told them that, but i also imparted that these things are all rigged in some way -- that business and money have hijacked a system which was already pretty strange (where do i send my tuition check to the electoral college... anyone?). i explained to them how you have to be born rich and poor people dont ascend to the presidency, and if they do, they are relentlessly hounded by a paranoid wealthy class, who will stop at nothing to prove that the sitting president engaged in oral-anal contact while on the phone with dick army. as i said before, the currency of power in israel is the gun and while you can be poor growing up, you better have been a war hero, or else you no chance to affect politics in any significant manner. the greatest peace brokers in israel were the greatest warmongers, possilby even war criminals, because that blood stained cache provided them a bulletproof perch from which they could influence real change. menachem begin ran a terrorist organization, irgun, to kick the british out pre 1948 , and this level of heroism and sacrifice provided him the moral footing to trade the sinai peninsula back for peace with egypt. yitzhak rabin was instrumental in routing 5 countries in 1967, eventually capturing jerusalem, which he then tried to partially return. maybe if clinton hadnt draft dodged things would be different, but i doubt people would ever have gotten over how 'black' he was. he loved to smoke weed and play saxophone and rich people hate that shit. in israel, he could be banging the pope, but if he comandeered a soviet built heliopter gunship in 1973, such indescretions are happily overlooked.

the strangest thing for me was how homey this place felt, in stark contrast to the time i spent in lithuania, my true birthplace. in my heart i realize that lithuania was a place i happened to be born, and in many way, the US is the place i happened to end up, through no acts of my own. diasporic dice were rolled, and bam! i'm spending the majority of my first 22 years in the state of illinois. israel is still some strange ethereal anchor that i can always turn to. and however flawed the idea of such an anchor may be, the fact remains that i have more family in israel than i do here, and the food is better too. dont look for me to leave or anything, but let's just say that while i was there, the pang was strong, even despite my understanding that moving somewhere to jumpstart yourself is a dangerous escape tactic. theres something magical about a place where jews clean toilets and when theyre done with that, they smoke like crazy and live till their 85.

so a move (at least a short term one) is never out of the question. if it does happen though, you can be sure i wont be packing heat, since my poor mechanical skills make me liable to inadvertantly shoot myself at any time. in the meantime, i'll just think back to overcaffeinated family and friends, packing late night plates with olive oil soaked hummus, stopping only to laugh and light up another cigarette while they celebrate another day.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


guided tours -- you just never know what you're gonna get. I got on the united tour bus with my co-worker Pasha. Pasha is 50 something, has grown daughters and, when slightly tipsy, becomes delightfully existential. for example, the other day at dinner, we were talking about not doing too much work at home. personally, i don't think there is anything that can't wait till the morning (people! we work in software, not surgery). several people shook their head, quietly disapproving of my work ethic. pasha, had a different approach : 'you know what helps with not checking emails.. the thought of death.'

pasha is 100% awesome and i was excited to go to jerusalem with him today, mainly because of his background (he is a pakistani humanist and this seems relevant somehow) and because he is well read in the history of antiquities. i wanted to ask him how he can go and sell software everyday and not want to kill himself, but forgot. i guess that will have to wait till we go to turkey together -- sometime soon, i hope. anyway, on this bus we were grouped with a nice indian family from south africa. the mother worked for el al so any time these people would leave south africa they would have to overnight in tel aviv. the other people on the bus were these two quiet greek folks who wouldnt stop sneezing and coughing. i was right behind them and wanted to decapitate them because of their stupid greek germs. decapitation, though somewhat of an overreaction, would have been effective, and as we will see later on, my instincts were entirely correct.

as we drove from tel aviv to jerusalem i was quiet, watching the terrain turn from fertile valley to slow foothills to legitimate rises in the road that were reminiscent of california. i always have said that israel's geography condenses the geography of california onto a smaller scale. in the north the see of galilee could easy remind you of lake tahoe, while the dead sea and death valley both share a penchant for subterranean elevations. meanwhile haifa hugs the coast and is tech central for israel -- the middle east's version of san francisco.

but i digress... we are rolling towards jerusalem , and i cant help but think back seven years to the time i was in jerusalem last, in a bus full of college kids. between the raging hormones and our familiarity in language, we had a pretty singular experience, and i spent a few minutes looking back on that trip with some nostalgia. making new friends in my age group, talking shit with the bus driver, getting loaded in a neo-socialist setting. not that i'm complaining about today's lineup, but hey, how can you beat kibbutz BJs?

another digression! we rolled into jerusalem, first looking at the city below us from mt scopus. i stopped listening to the ancient history lessons surrounding each point we hit because it was too much to internalize. i just decided i'd read about it later. nonetheless, the city was laid out before us, the dome of the rock shining brightly atop of the temple mount:

I love camels. look at that expression!

then we made our way into the old city, where we wandered around, with the aim of eventually hitting the church of the sepulcher, apparently the site where JC got nailed to the cross. i say apparently, because no one knows, and we are all guessing as to where these events took place, assuming they took place in the first place.
so i'm not totally buying it . also, there are stations every time JC fell, which was like 3 times. i mean, i know times is tough, but thats a lot of falling! i'm sure abraham fell all the time but we don't include that in our tradition. it's a little embarrassing, all this falling. JC is like the gerald ford of millennial prophets -- and that really says little about his foreign policy.

as we made our way through all the stations, we eventually came to the muslim quarter, which is always my favorite. the other quarters are kinda clean, with the occasional sighting of a bumbling cleric from some strange tradition. not in the muslim quarter. you turn the corner and hit the bazaar and hit it hard. people are selling you everything from all sides, including jewelry, posters of palistine, jewish stars, kodak film, and IDF t-shirts. the arab quarter is not interested in irony, or politics for that matter. the arab quarter is full of people who want to make money, preferably off of you. high above the stone walls the muzzin cries from an amplified minaret. no one kneels, no one prays... they just sell , sell , sell.

this video is a bit bloated (and will be fixed), but it does the trick:

we twist and turn our way through the old city, hitting the wailing wall, the western wall of the original temple and the epicenter of jewish orthodoxy. chaos at the wall -- black hatter lubivatchers attacking me from all sides, threating me with tefillin. dozens of boys being bar-mitzvahed (it's bar-mitzvah thursday!) chanting in their broken voices, culminating with a simon tov and a mazel tov. demented false prophets screaming into mid air , arms raised, tzitzit ruffling in all directions. its the jewish rapture, and through this i sneak to the wall, find a deep fissure and insert my little prayer for those i love. i rest my head and hands on the wall, introvert deeply, awaken and step back. i make my way back to our tour group slowly , in a bit of a daze.

this whole scene is followed by a pleasant luncheon. the stock market was discussed.

after lunch we head off to the yad vashem, the massive holocaust museum. i dont know about you, but i am holocausted out. all of my grandparents are survivors and i grew up from a young age hearing about my grandmother's troubles, a 14 year old girl who saw her mother and sister shot before her eyes. and then some of you wonder why i'm so fucking neurotic. a seven year old boy should rather stay away from such stories but they drew me in more deeply. my world view, just forming, was settling on a giant crack which was pulled apart by the forces of good and evil. so i know about the holocaust. when we entered the museum and the old greek looked at me and offered the profound ' you know what they did with many of the jews, they made soap!', i couldnt tell if there was glee at the end of that sentence. i decided to let it go, because this guy was old and english was probably his ninth language. meandering through the museum (i had tried to ditch the greeks but couldnt) we came upon an exhibit on hitler. this greek looks at me and , with suprising aplomb, lets me know 'it wasn't his fault. it was the jews, they had all the money and they wouldnt give it to hitler so he had to kill them all and take it.'

now. fifteen different things ran through my head. i dont want to enumerate them all but the list starts like this.

1. What is this guy doing at yad vashem if this is what he thinks
2. what happens to someone who puts a 75 year old greek dude in a chokehold at the holocaust memorial.
3. is it inappropriate for me to respond with 'hmm, thats interesting coming from someone whos culture is mainly known for taking it in the ass.'
4. can i really engage this guy in a conversation about what he just said, perhaps drawing on some realties from the ground.
5. i cant believe this guy just made me even MORE depressed here.

in the end i gave him a dirty look, did not answer him and simply walked off. i can tell they were a bit dependent on us, not wanting to lose themselves from teh group. the dude kept following me, so i retaliated in the only way i knew how -- violent gas. thats right, i think i've eaten 5lbs of chick peas each day i've been here, so you can imagine what my lower GI was doing. i paced ahead of this fuck, gassing him, WWI style. finally i was relieved, so i ducked away in a small exhibit where they showed emaciated jews playing violins. none of this was helping but eventually the greeks were off my six and i re-paced myself through the museum. eventually i came upon a photo of a nazi, gun cocked and aimed at a woman holding her child and i decided that was enough. i zigzagged through the museum and emerged to the sight of the jerusalem hills -- a rolling, lush respite for the brutality behind me:

so basically, i'm over the holocaust, but im not sure it's over me. i chain smoked my way back to the bus, avoided eye contact with anyone, and made my way back to the hotel.

tomorrow i go to tel-aviv, which is where israelis go to eat, drink, and try to live normal lives. 4 nights there should help me some. and so help me god, if i see those greeks again, i may find other ways of relieving myself ...

till then!!

Friday, November 23, 2007


miami seems to have a special place in my recent adventures. i came through here going to both puerto rico and brazil, though both those times i did not stay the night. i'm here tonight in between my costa rica vacation and my israeli business trip. too tired to go out see the city and slightly oversocialized anyway, i decided to stay in the hotel room and write it out...

i just got back from costa rica -- where i fell in love with central america. because of its short length, this trip was really just a taste of the country. we didnt see volcanoes, nor explore beaches. we arrived on sunday, hopped in a rental, played a few hands of costa rican blackjack , and headed off to catch our ferry to malpais. at the bj table, i was down 10Gs! which, in american cash is roughly $20. it took me a few minutes to figure out this exchange rate of 500:1. I suggested to several vendors that the country should consider devaluing the currency like the ruble, but they just looked at me funny.

costa rica is just developed enough , if you follow. dusty roads take you between beach towns but when you get there, you'll find great and cheap food, with some gorgeous beach resorts. we picked something mid tier, meaning the fridge didnt work, i got dripped on by the air conditioning condensation, and the kitchen ran out of BEANS. that last item mortified us the most -- how do you run out of BEANS in COSTA RICA. nonetheless, the trip was great, with wonderful weather (including a ridiculous rainstorm ... "just when you think it cant rain any harder...") and great company.

i tried to get one thing done each day and just chillax the rest of the time. On Monday, Jon, Zach and I drove up the coast to a small port where we arranged to have a couple ticos (thats what the cosa ricans call themselves) take us out fishing for a few hours. We quickly got on board and were shuttled out into the ocean, past a shear-cliffed island, where we saw bait fish dancing on the nearby surface. Douglass, our "captain" said little except "mas cervesa?" when he was thirsty but he was a hell of a tuna spotter. there were times when all three of us had fish on the line and it was wild in that tiny boat.

Friday, November 16, 2007



It's your lucky day! That's right, I'm about to embark on a trip to Costa Rica, then to Miami for a night, and then to Israel. Take a look:

The say the shortest distance between two points is a line. Bullshit. The shortest distance takes you through tropical rain forests, surfing lessons, 24 hour wife beater locals... I plan to come home browner than you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dental Damns....


it's been a while since i have posted. unfortunately, absolutely nothing new has happened in my life , aside from a few trips to the dentist. normally, there would be nothing to say about this, but, because of my dentist's unparalleled dexterity and weird sense of humor, i have found that going to visit him is more interesting than attending my job. this revelation, which sprang upon me whilst a grown man had several fingers deep inside my mouth, made me realize that one of two things was afoot:

1. I have come to appreciate the feeling of novicaine shot into my jaw, and the subsequent dull drilling of the interiors of my head by blue hooded jokester. This seems unlikely.

2. I need a new job.

I work in the software industry and maybe four years at one place is enough. There must be some sort of statute of limits on such a thing, but i have poor role models. For 25 years, my father woke up every morning at 530 to drive 25 miles through shitty traffic, so he can go to the same job every day, at a family owned company where he was most certainly not family. Every day he would come home, sit in the living room, smoke a cigarette and swear at the mail. He would then go outside to tend to his flowers and plants, his one escape from the impossibilities of the walls he had suddenly found erected around himself.

Every morning i wake up and check my email, my stocks, my news. I am taking no actions at this point, i just want to make sure the world is still in one piece. After some time, i stand up and attempt to do 20 jumping jacks. i take a shower and when i'm done brushing up, i go back to my room, play some Wilco, dress up and head out the door. Recently i have been taking the train to work. As i leave the train station in san leandro, i walk past the same decomposed bird, only every day there is less and less of it. Today i spotted a feather here, a feather there ,and some ambiguous spot spread out over a few feet of asphalt. As I walked past, it occurred to me that i was experiencing some sort of morose empty nest syndrome -- rather than feeling sad that my bird had flown away, i was simply sad that the decomposition process had come to an end, that i no longer could count on the daily sight of my pal disintegrating further and further.

i dont really know what any of this means, other than i am terribly bored. the thought of going to work every day for the next 40 years makes makes me want to shoot myself in the kidney. to avoid this, i have been lucky enough to mix some travel into my job, and doubly lucky is my timing; i'm heading to puerto rico next week to torment that small island-colony with painful details about the software world... donnyb rides again!! till then.

PS... I'd like to give a shout out to my "anonymous" reader. Valerie: the 72 hours during which your identity was shrouded in mystery piqued me in strange and wonderful ways. and to my "colleague" who betrayed your identity and subsequently mocked me in a southern french i will never forget: "Ne pas les Bleu!!!"

Saturday, September 29, 2007



well my last post was a bit of a downer and i want to write about bigger and brighter things... let's get to the point: the chicago cubs have clinched a divisional title for the first time since 1989!!

so what if their ultimate demise is as inevitable as laundry? I am ridiculously excited about a post season appearance and none of these teams in the NL scare me at all. meanwhile the cubs dont bring too much hype this year (unlike 4 years ago, when wood and prior were the two-headed second coming of yahweh). instead we have a solid team, with good chemistry and a weathered old manager, whose photo i carry with me in my wallet. i know thats a bit wierd but so far so good!!

in a san francisco sports bar, tucked away besides golden gate park, the patrons are overflowing for their respective teams. philadelphians, chicagoans, new yorkers have congregated here to hold a bit of home close to them for a few hours, to make that connection through space and time... to relive that one moment in, say , 1984, when you first experienced baseball joy , your mother crying sweetly beside you as Keith Moreland is doused in champagne. you have lived since then, and you have seen all kinds of things which have, in aggregate brought you here.. your experiences have defined you and made you whole. and still, though you are here now, your heart is elsewhere, so used to being somewhere else... so you look for that anchor, and inevitably, like laundry, you are back in Illinois, remembering champagne flowing for something you had nothing to do with, but something that feels so right, so basic.

so as you can see, the cubbies are more than baseball and more than a shitty team. just remember to cheer on.. and on the off chance of a world series appearance -- call me and you'll here me overflow .

GO CUBS!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Goodbye Columbus

"donnyb! donnyb! why dont you write about ohio."

read on , you philistines.. drink the nectar of my pen sword!

columbus ohio is a simple place but i am struggling to adequately portray it here. think Paris, France, then pretend it is opposite day -- and then add 20,000 Big Ten sluts. voila! so ok, maybe this is a bit presumptuous, but i spent four years in champaign illinois, so i know these people. they are people of the earth. 30% are sexy-as-hell god fearing christians while a good 70% are sexy-as-hell, binge-drinking sluts.

this town has many uninteresting facets, none of which seem worth mentioning, but what the hell, i consider this a good education for the non-midwesterners. for example, every cop car you see has at least one black person in the back seat. i'm not sure if they are paid members of the OSU police department or what, but the message is loud and clear: if you're black and even slightly shady, you best watch your ass, or we'll drive you around town for hours. also, a non-distinct concrete downtown is punctuated, quite phallicly, by a giant concrete slabbed exclamation point which rises thousands of feet in the air. inside, natives shuffle about, dealing with matters of insurance and electric power. then they go home, watch TV, have sex with their wives, and do it all over again. in other words: they are just like you.

when i travel domestically, all of my foreign excitements go away. there is no fear for my life, no worries of mistaken identity which inevitably lead to unhappy relations with a prison guard named julio or hans. instead, i wind up in columbus or topeka and i wonder: why the hell would anyone live here? and then i am slightly jealous.

i admit i am feeling more rural recently... the throngs of SF (not to mention the thongs of SF -- like the one i saw on a dude in chaps on a WEDNESDAY down my street) are slowly wearing on me. i pine for open spaces, backyards and streams. kids and dogs running around naked, playing in sprinklers. fishing boats and john deere tractors. but i am quickly reminded of fishing trips with my father. between awkward conversations and his occasional threat to throw me off of a 14ft rowboat, we would look around and admire the idyllic serenities of lake and forest... only to hear him proclaim this place unlivable for the dearth of the two big J's: Jews and Jobs.

thats right, well placed paternal semitism creeps back into the subconscience and i realize that my musings of fireflies flickering around my west virginia spread are just a poorly thought out pipe dream. as much as i like the country, i couldnt imagine settling in a place where i would be given delicious hams on easter. the wierd thing is that i love hams. it's like my judaism is just a front for a broader anti-social behavior that gets tripped when gentiles offer me hams on the day their boy comes back from his jewly imposed death. or maybe its a deep seeded anxiety for what the anthropologist would call "the other", and "the other's pork products". Unclear.

and let's not kid ourselves in believing my neurosis is solely jewy by nature. how would i afford myself a living? sure i could make $6/hour shoveling shit at the local manure farm, but let's face it, manual labor is not for me. would i have to start a business, whatever that means? i could 'work for myself'. The economists and anthropologists are both shaking their heads. not only do they pity me, they worry too.

so in the end, columbus is no different than sao paulo is no different from San Francisco is no different from the Moon and Antarctica... geography wracks me with open questions, which lead to drinking, which leads to blogging, which leads to dorkism, which i suppose is fitting. dorks buy these tickets for me to tour the world -- now they are getting big dork dividends.

i told you there was nothing to say.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

sootblower's lament

man ... i need to stop hanging out with power guys.

SootBlower's Lament

The boiler needs work
The temperature's risin'.
We blow soot past lines ragin' yella,
And our faces reign black
Our shoulders shlumped shale,
Our hearts: NO DATA.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sunday, July 8, 2007

the yiddish swinging union

when my family first arrived to chicago in 1980, we were met and housed by some distant american relatives, but our true friendships were forged with other like-minded immigrants like ourselves. this is not unique to my family, or soviet jews -- people in strange places seek comfort where they can : the mother tongue, strange dishes from their native lands (gelatinized chicken comes to mind), and traditional costume parties, like the one where my father dressed up as a giant box of aspirin. when you embark on such a daunting journey, a brave new cultural web is woven, acting as both a safety net in case things go terribly awry and as a familiar vantage point to remark on the peculiarities of a terra nova. above all, however, immigrant communities provide an impossibly fertile ground for the verbal compadre to streets paved with gold: good clean american gossip.

while i once stayed far away from such talk, dismissing it roundly as idle old-lady banter, i have recently embraced it, and now live for it. every time i visit chicago, i try to get as many chatty women together as possible, preferably at a round table and representing all available age groups. they require very little from me to get started.

'so whats new these days?'
'oh my god, misha lomkin dumped his wife and kids and is going with the polish whore from the office.'
'misha? the one who makes teeth for a living?'
'what kind of job is this? to make teeth for a living? and this putz walked around with his front tooth gone for two months anyway.'

this goes on and on. usually there are men watching baseball somewhere nearby, but i get enough of that on the west coast. on the other hand, stepping aboard the gossip train stamps your ticket for the one way journey to the promised land of sex and money. mainly sex. this amount of genitalia talk and intergenerational bonding is priceless, comparable only to the bittersweet hob-nobbing of a well attended bris. plus, there's coffeecake.

the day before i arrived in chicago on friday, my mother sent me this link:,CST-NWS-sexlaw01.article

the news rocketed through the community, primarily because it was on CNN and FOX and everybody knows these people, or at least knows someone who knows them. let's just call this game three degrees of pickled herring: mom knows sveta who works with alex who is in the same office of the lawyer who sued the guy. or alternately, my sister is friend with inna who used to date sasha, the general manager of prestige leasing, where that son of a bitch arthur was a big shot. either way, there are so many connections that even my grandmother knew half of the people involved.

you try explaining swinging to an 84 year old holocaust survivor.

'donny, how do you say ? schwigging? schvooging?'

once she mastered the terms, my grandmother, whose fluency in 6 languages never ceases to amaze me, was off running.

'ah donny, at the schvinging party, what kind of dish do they use for the keys? and efsher they catch something? do they have protection against some diseases you can catch? maybe the aids? be a gutinker and answer me in yiddish. mach meer a teva, dannalleh.'

i looked my grandmother in the eye and told her in the most broken yiddish imaginable that im sure the mythical key bowl was something they wouldnt mind scratching and that many 'schvanz socks' where distributed because people were afraid of 'receiving the aids and other choleras.'

we laughed it off, my mother and i losing our lox and my grandmother, still the funniest woman i know, proclaiming them all 'curvah-blyads', her own famous polish/russian amalgam, literally translated as 'whore-whores'.

when the dust settled, and everyone at the table was brought up to speed, we had a weekend's worth of inside jokes at our disposal. the elderly, probably due to their lack of mobility, became easy targets. for example, my brother-in-law's grandmother, was accused of running a swingers club at her retirement community in east rogers park.

'asya, its time to come clean! i know youre walking funny for a reason.'

he is merciless.

similarly, my grandmother gladly pronounced she had a new hobby. 'danalleh, may you can take me to the night club tonight so i can make some friends?'

and between the chuckles, the lobbying of sexual harassments towards our ancient relatives, and the grape soda squirting out of my nose, comes the inevitable judgement, where those in the room hotly debate the proper allocation of shame amongst the fuckers and fuckees. in the end of the day, it was decided that while $4800 wasnt a sizeable sum, it should at least help arthur get away for a while. and who knows, maybe during his vacation in the caribbean he'll get drunk, piss on a local constable, and insult the prime minister of albania. i just hope it doesnt happen while im too far from home.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

positive paul gets pinched

the cocktail break is my favorite part of the wedding ceremony. after a service of varying length (some cultures tend to be more merciful than others (see vedic v. courtney, 2007)), party goers are treated to small foods and an open bar. this combination is never wrong, except when you accidentally bite into a fried oyster, when you expected shrimp tempura. those first few seconds of a misbite are so confusing, like forgetting why you entered a room or what you wanted to do once you got there. the cocktail hour lets everyone hob nob a bit, warming you up to the rest of the people engaged in this event. this one's a doctor, this one's a lawyer, this one's a gay anglican priest (remember, we live in san francisco). you meet people from all corners of the world, and its fun to see your newly married friends' karmic footprint exposed, fanned out in front of you, marinating in gimlets, sucking on american spirits, and engorging itself on those delicious little crab cakes.

sometimes the cocktail hour can be a source of amusement. during my sister's wedding, the fire alarm blared while i was maneuvering my 35th shrimp of the hour and everyone had to get outside. old russian jews were shaking their head, near tears because of the inevitable tragedy of a wedding ablaze. eventually the all clear was given and my brother-in-law found the fire truck a fun backdrop to a classic photo -- beers in hand, my sister carried in his arms as if walking through the threshold for the first time, smiling ear to ear with firemen posing all around. somewhere my grandmother was crying, but in the end, the maelstrom she feared never materialized.

as with all other parts of the wedding, there is a distinct potential for drama during this warm up period. so much is on the line that any miscue is magnified and before you know it, things get out of hand. we've all heard of people getting left at the altar (though none of us have seen this ourselves). what about people getting booted from weddings for discounting the previous night's dis-invitation?

positive paul had been broken up with by mary so many times that he just assumed that this last break up and dis-invitation the night before was more a suggestion than an order (he is, after all, the most positive person we know). paul, painfully positive as always, arrived at the wedding, chatty but careful. he was a strange looking man, no doubt -- thinned seattle grunge rock hair came down to the shoulder, and when he had it pulled back, there was a strange colonial air to him, especially when he wore a blazer and unbuttoned shirt as he did during the previous night's nautical adventure. maybe he fought for washington in the past life -- it's unclear. what was clear was the unfortunate resemblance of his head with that of a full sized midget -- protruding forehead, bad teeth and strong jaw. i dont want to offend my midget readers, but you get the idea. he wore big aviator sunglasses and while we were mingling described his undying devotion to wild rivers and lamented their repeating damming, a non-consentual hydroelectric buttplug which raged hotly in his eyes. as he was describing his upcoming job pursuits fighting those dams, mary approached. high heeled and serious, mary carried with her a sense of urgency that i had not seen before, though i dont know mary well. she approached deliberately, six foot three in heels, her cheeks sunk vermilion, clashing wildly with the magenta bridesmade dress. 'can i talk to you for a second' she said to paul, less of a question than a demand. paul, looking helpless, his comparative stature finally matching his facial realities, slumped at the shoulders and headed off. hannah and i looked at each other and shrugged, but we both sensed that paul, already on thin ice after many break ups and a inappropriately positive post-break up attitude, was being admonished. trust me, there is nothing worse than being admonished by a good looking woman taller than you, especially if you dont have a ride back from the presidio. time past, drinks were drunk and we continued carrying on. this one's a graphic designer, this one has a bad tattoo, this one fought in the battle of the bulge. by the end of the cocktail hour, you become astutely confused by your friends and their friends. five gin and tonics can be disorienting, but this mingling shit doenst help. as we head into the wedding reception room, mary approaches us... seeming relieved and cheery she proudly tells us that paul had been sent off! that's right, positive paul, who's good attitude had served only to annoy us up to this point -- call me a downer if you want, but there was no upside to the black plague, unless you enjoy boils and pus spilling out of your asshole... i dont -- had been tossed, red-carded and 86'd from the scene. in one swift imposition of wedding day justice, mary reclaimed her brother's wedding for herself and the strange one was sent packing.

i dont know if positive paul made another come back the next day, but it seems unlikely. sometimes the numbers are just stacked against you, and even the most cheerfully winning attitude isnt enough to bring you back into the circle of love. but still i imagine him trying, delusionaly optimistic, knocking on mary's door with flowers the next day, hoping for another shot, dismissing or selectively forgetting his recent ignominy. at some level, you gotta love the guy for trying. who knew the black plague could be so much fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Weekend Adventures part I: Nevada

i've always had a soft spot for reno and have long maintained that nevada is the greatest state in the union. first of all, the silver state has the highest average elevation of any other state in the country. the thin air undoubtedly affected policy there -- prostitution and gambling are legal and i'm sure marrying your hot sister is just behind. basically a bunch of migrant silver miners, high on poorly oxygenated air, found several thousand square miles of bone dry dirt and cultivated a culture of sin and solitude. outstanding! also: reno remains the only city in america where i lit myself on fire, richard pryor style, at a blackjack table no less, and survived to tell the story. i think that scene might deserve its own entry sometime.

work brought me to here and when my co-worker and I landed, we were met outside by a jeff fisher lookalike, which tickled me. while primarily known as the head coach of the tennessee titans, jeff was also a backup safety on the '85 chicago bears. just like jeff, our friend was mustached , with dark hair slicked back, some gray hair, paulie walnuts style, wearing sunglasses and furiously chewing gum. Da Bearsssss! was all i wanted to say for a straight hour, but i bit my tongue and instead sat back in the minivan and soaked in the sun drenched eastern sierra landscape. our van took us down US 395, another nevada landmark. diving deep into wide valleys, we could see miles of arid space edged by stunning peaks, their edges sharpened by the dry air. irrigation systems were working extra time to squeeze a bit of alfalfa out of the desert, alfalfa soon to fill the tummies of cows who will be t-bones and baseball gloves when they grow up. this desert, marshaled by gambling, whoremongering , sister-ogling nevadans, is the unlikely starting point for your quarter pounder with cheese.

in minden, nevada, we had meetings in a room with wall to wall windows, a 180 degree view of the high desert. there, i sat in quiet awe of the mountains spread out before me like a granite fan, while technologies were discussed around me in impossibly uninteresting detail. when it was my turn to speak, my computer failed to project on the screen, and i again I was stung by the familiar pangs of a misplaced decade. after all this time, and all this loathing, the computers finally hate me more than i hate them.

we wrapped up our business in minden and headed north where i caught a quick flight to LAX. there i would be met by my little perisan pal, and the weekend would finally get started...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

shore leave

gosh its so strange to write from my own room -- like the excitement and isolation of travel cast a potent crucible where the words burn white. being home feels slow and constricted a bit, and I am finding myself dangerously tantalized by a life on the road. work has whetted my wanderlust , and I am becoming obsessed with touching geography intimately, a look and feel not quite satisfied by google earth (though it is fun to hover over half dome and try to find the closest cheese steak shop). My recent reconnection with two of my favorite musical phenomena is only more indicative of my itchy feet: gypsies and tom waits pour through my head all day. i have watched this youtube clip of shore leave at least 25 times, and its affecting my world view. tom waits knows how to bring you to a place and drown you in the provincial kitsch:

Well I was pacing myself
trying to make it all last
squeezing all the life
out of a lousy two day pass
and I had a cold one at the Dragon
with some Filipino floor show
and talked baseball with a lieutenant
over a Singapore sling
and I wondered how the same moon outside
over this Chinatown fair
could look down on Illinois
and find you there

more than the song, i am always blow away by seeing tom waits exploding on stage. he is channeling howlin wolf up there i swear to god.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

I get to be old in Rio too!

My time is winding down in Rio and i had a rather lovely day, despite the lack of action, or sunshine. After hitting the beach for an hour or so, tasting the atlantic and trapping some sand in those hard to reach places between my toes, I decided to go on one of these organized tours. I know, it's not sexy, but I felt bored and itching to see some sites. Plus you just dont know what's safe and what isnt. This is the kind of city where you make a wrong turn and BAM!, you wake up in a bathtub full of ice, about 5 kilos lighter.

anyway, i had the hotel staff reserve the tour. I havent been on a vacation so long, I've forgotten the joys of a well connected concierge. "No problem, Mr. Don, you come down at 2:20, the bus will pick you up." Around that time, mas o menos, the driver came in and yelled '510' . This is me -- even down here I am instantly recognized as an East Bay all-star. I gave him a thumbs up (this is what brazlieros do), followed the man outside, and was overjoyed to discover that the "bus" was actually an old beat up Peugot Boxer. Kind like this guy with windows:

I hopped into the van, which had seats for at least 40 people, despite being only slightly larger than a ford taurus. instantly, i was greeted with a festive 'hola!' from an older mexican couple, while a recently employeed indian graduate student cautiously shook my hand. up front was fabio, (this appears to be a common name down here... they dont seem to get it when I say "No fucking way" everytime a fabio introduces himself to me), some random cute girl who's only role, apparently, was to fondle fabio, and an unnamed driver, who was unheard and unseen the entire trip.

off we went! braving the streets of rio in a giant white box. we hit the usual sites, stopping first at the national cathedral, which smacked of christy spaceship cum yerte on acid. the pope came here like 10 years ago and everyone creamed themselves. good times!

we leave the van to take some pictures. fabio and his girl make out a little, which is great for him, but our ultimate goal was to hit the suger loaf, or Pão de Açúcar (dont't worry, i don't know what any of these diacritic marks sound like either). on our way out there, we meandered through el centro, the downtown area of Rio. Commercially abandoned by the weekend, and robbed of any potential charm by a low hanging sky, the city appeared to us in its barest, post-apocolyptic form. Barefoot children, running after each other in the streets, merchants selling chewing gum and trinkets on the sidewalk, and scores of destitute young people, standing around, milling about, crashed out, hung over, and otherwise killing time, the only commodity god had allotted them. it wasnt shocking, but sad, like driving throuh the west side of chicago on a wednesday afternoon. i was happy to see this up close, even happier to be protected by 2 tons of french engineering. on the other hand, when was the last time the french engineered anything worthwhile? the bechemal sauce doesnt count. moving on...

slowly, we made our way to the bottom of the sugar loaf, all the while under the stern eye of the magnicient jesus on the hill. big jesus is watching you all the time, homes. apparently no one told the whores. we arrive to the bottom of the hill and where i am stoked for the cable car ride! we climb and climb to the top of the mountain -- overly medicated english women are grabbing me in fright, and i think fabio is getting a covert handjob in the back. when we get to the top i ask him how many times he's been on this rock. 'thousands. it's not so emotional for me any more.' must be tough -- desensitized to the loaf.

the views from the top were sweet as you can imagine:

my tour friends drop me off at my hotel, wishing me the best, and i give them a thumbs up and i remind myself that i need to stop doing this in the States, where i would be perceived like a total jerkoff, or worse, the President.

when i arrive to the hotel, Andreas, my concierge suggests a seafood place where the gentleman can enjoy all he can eat. i was famished and quite partial towards creatures of the sea, so i had him reserve me a table. when i arrived at the place, the joint was empty, which meant i had 7 people serving me at once. feeling like a mob boss, i kicked back, ordered someone to make me a gin and tonic and began at the "starters"buffet. there, i selected only the finest:

* shrimp salad in pasta
* risotto shrimp
* squid with some wierd shit in it
* cold potatoes
* green salad
* several different olives
* pasta salad with crab

i passed on the oysters for fear of the yellow-eyed death.

then the real magic began, one at a time , these guys took turns bringing me more and more dishes. feeling like audrey griswald in european vacation, i consistently made the same "holy shit" face, for fear of public explosion. during this time, i enjoyed

* popcorn shrimp
* wierd random shrimp in at least three varieties
* grilled lobster
* sauteed lobster
* paella
* fresh cod
* octopus
* fried calamari
* mussels baked in their shell, in cheese
* shrimp baked in some sort of shell, with cheese
* various fried vegetables
* some wierd but delicious cheesy / mayonaisey puff
* more paella

Then, this guy has the gall to ask me " would you like some steak?" umm, i dont think so, pal. chatting with the staff all the while, i found eating alone less lonely than usual. I topped all of this off with some fresh mango and a limey tart, some brazilian facsimile for key lime pie. I rolled out of that joint (literally), had the doorman grab me a cab, and headed back home.

when i arrived back at the hotel , i exchanged high fives with Andreas the concierge (he is my boy) and he motioned me to turn around. down the stairs came a stunner -- the kind they put in the brochures. it was unclear what was fake and what was real, but in fantasy land that doesnt matter i guess. Andreas winks at me and tells me that for $100 an hour she'll come back up with me. Let me tell you something about the staff at the Luxor Regente. Not only will they book you tours, buy you cigarettes and reserve you seats at empty restaurants, they will pimp out girls and then make you feel like less of a man for not buying pussy. It is a wierd ethos here at the Copa. She gets in her cab, makes eye contact with me, lowers her window, and via a complex network of portuegese note passing, i receive her digits.

I guess I just dont get the point of any of it. I mean, why risk a moral impasse, not to mention long term neurosis about my dick falling off, just to bust a nut? Is this the wrong attitude? Andreas seems to think so. I should just give him the money and my room and let him have some fun. Maybe it's a mitzvah? Besides, my room is a mess (i dont really trust the help) and for some reason i think its rude to invite a whore up to a messy room. my mother would be so proud.

Turning down sex for hire, i retired to my room, where i cozied up in bed and watched the only american movie showing, Mel Gibson's powerful "What women want". ding ding ding! Don Baron, this IS the gayest moment of your life.